Bombay – City on Fire


One of the most anticipated films from the time it was announced, ‘Bombay’ created a big furore over its content and was an extremely controversial film due for release. Even though the Tamil version had a smooth projection in March 1995 but the Hindi dubbed version was making sensational headlines on front cover pages with almost all political activists like Shiv Sena etc. calling for a ban. Being an ABCL presentation helped it to a great extent as Mr.Bachchan’s proximity with Mr.Bal Thackeray helped in getting the movie a clearance, who had his own reservations even with the name of the film but, eventually gave his consent.

But that was not the case with the Muslim fundamentalists as they objected to a lot of scenes in the movie (lifting of the burqa by the male protagonist, the female protagonist taking the quran while absconding to Bombay with the chanting of verses in the backgroud are the ones to name a few) and needed a cut even after the Censor board had cleared the same. The movie was pulled out of theatres from the first day of its schedule release in Mumbai without a show being live and there were violent protests all across here. Finally it got released on the subsequent Tuesday amidst heavy security with cinema halls looking like a battle fort and strict policing as the movie went on to create history.

I have great admiration towards Mani Ratnam for making films on various subjects which take inspiration from real life and that includes famous epics, social issues, terrorism, politics and history. His films are always an excellent combination of his vision with great camerawork and amazing music.

I can recall very few films being viewed in theatres during my earlier days and Bombay is one such film that still remains etched in my memory mainly due to the topical theme and the turmoil it created near its release.

Shekhar (Arvind Swamy) is the youngest son of traditional Hindu parents and working as a journalist in Bombay with The Indian Express. On return to his seaside village he catches the glimpse of a young burqa clad woman Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala) when her veil is lifted by the breeze. Infatuated in love instantly with her (Mani Ratnam doesn’t waste much time to make his characters fall in love), Shekhar spots her the second time at a Muslim community wedding which is shot against the backdrop of the beautiful song ‘Kannalane/Kehna Hi Kya’. Shekhar’s intensity grows in stature accordingly with such small occasional meets and does not care for the consequences of being in love to a girl from different community neither hesitates to express it. On the other hand Shaila is reluctant initially but eventually agrees to his passion. Please listen to my favourite song here.

Obstacles and trouble arise when Shekhar takes the marriage proposal to Shaila’s father, who is furious and unwilling about it. Shekhar’s father too disagrees and lands up confronting Basheer to keep his daughter away from his son resulting in a fallout with Shekhar who returns back to Bombay.

Always in touch with Shaila through letters, Shekhar sends her rail ticket to Bombay who eventually runs away from home and on arrival they both get married on the same day at a marriage register office. Being happily married with twin sons, the film goes in dark territories as tension sparks in the city with communal riots happening after the demolishment of Babri Masjid, where thousands are killed in the violence. It moves on to a powerful drama of the religious fights that tore the city apart and how bigger tragedies occur to their peaceful little world and to the city which never sleeps. Mani Ratnam hurls all the horrors and chaos of fusing religious fanaticism in your face.

The second half of this film works very well where the riots are depicted with outstanding authenticity and is disturbing as well. Relationship between the fathers of the main protagonists which is very tense initially melts away as they accept their children’s marriage over a period of time. Both Nasser (Narayan) and Kitty (Basheer) who portrays their respective role, having silly fights when they come to Bombay are a joy to watch. Some scenes between the two are excellent and particularly one is a masterstroke where Basheer comes to Narayan’s rescue after making his way back home from Aarti and confronted by people belonging to the minority who stops and questions them. Basheer intervenes and informs them that Narayan is his brother and gets emotional for having saved his life and the state of affairs around.

Or the scene where Narayan risks his life to take Basheer’s quran and the cylinder blasts while they try to get out of a brning house. The background score for the second half is an achievement and enhances every moment. The transvestite guy who shelters and feeds one of the twin kids is marvellous in a small role. The best moments in ‘Bombay’ are captured while the city burns in hell and is Mani Ratnam’s attempt for bringing the issue of religious divide. What begins as an innocent romantic fluff becomes a heart tugging, almost claustrophobic experience as the two parents look for their children lost in the confusion.

Technically Bombay has terrific camera work and an amazing score. Mani had briefed Rajeev Menon that the film being about riots, they needed the 1st half to be as beautiful as possible. Having a lot of blues the exteriors where shot in Kasargod-Kerala and the interiors of homes in Pollachi-Tamil Nadu. The moist atmosphere in the opening scene and the rains in village are magnificently captured on screen.

The city of Bombay was created on two streets and even Thota Tharrani deserves a special mention for his brilliant artwork in recreating the riot filled atmosphere.

A R Rahman’s outstanding soundtrack as well as the BGM is what makes ‘Bombay’ a wonderful journey, be it ‘Kannalane/Kehna Hi Kya’ or an emotionally filled ‘Uyire/Tu Hi Re’ and the catchy ‘Humma Humma’, all songs still make for a melodious listen and have tremendous recall value. Bombay Theme is one of the best instrumental pieces in world music and was even used in Andrew Nicol’s Lord of War.

Arvind Swamy is convincing with his performance as the romantic lead first and then a concerned father and husband post interval. Manisha Koirala’s performance is a revelation and this was her big ticket film where she is charming as a sweet and innocent Shaila and equally warm and protective as the mother. There are some tender moments aplenty between Arvind and Manisha, and they share a terrific chemistry making them highly believable as a couple on screen. Prakash Raj is in a blink and miss role as a police inspector with Tinnu Anand and Akash Khurana as the religious heads being adequate.

At the heart of ‘Bombay’ lies the message of peace and unity regardless of our religious background and it also makes a point that such fights are senseless, where innocent lives suffer more often than not. ‘Bombay’ is a beautifully told story with Mani Ratnam at the peak of his powers, making it an unforgettable film.

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)


8 thoughts on “Bombay – City on Fire

  1. BOMBAY, with its detailing, it’s lovable characters, the slow, brewing build up leading to the riots remains one of Ratnam’s finest works, the only blemish being the fillm’s ending which, in the name of optimism borders on being cheesy, perhaps ridiculous. At the time, sentimental images of people dropping their weapons and holding hands struck the right chord with audiences, but watch it again, and one finds it very inconsistent with the maturity shown in the craft of the rest of the film.

    Thotta Tharani’s detailing is so immaculate, people couldn’t believe that exteriors of the film were shot in studios and sets in Chennai. Rajeev Menon’s camerawork was quite exceptional, and Ratnam didn’t partner with him again till GURU. Word has it that Menon is shooting Ratnam’s next film titled KADAL (Sea Shore).

    Rahman’s BOMBAY THEME remains one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed in India. As you have mentioned, it has gone beyond the film and been used in other films as well, including the opening scene of Deepa Mehta’s FIRE.

    A good, detailed write-up.

    • You are spot on regarding the ending. I watched the film recently on TV and the ending depicting people forming circles right on the middle of the road during the riots was simply ridiculous. More so because it came from Mani Ratnam.

      Otherwise the film is brilliant.

  2. Nice write up Suraj. Arvind Swamy gave a better performance here than Roja for sure. And yes, Bombay Theme is undoubtedly one of the best ever composed in the whole damn world! Thanks fro mentioning the Art director’s name. His work is nothing short of outstanding!

  3. Ok some serious facts….

    Rajeev Menon was first offered the film as a hero for the role played by Arvind Swamy.

    After my SSC Board and during vacations, probably I have never anticipated a film with such fever than any other film my whole life all because of the controversy surrounding and the hype.

    So I book my tickets for the Sunday show at New Excelsior(Mumbai) standing in a 4 hour long line just to feel the movie in 24 track sound and BTW New Excelsior had the biggest screen in the whole of Mumbai then. The tickets for the FDFS was booked in a local theatre at Thane by name of Aradhana which is now defunct.

    Now imagine this KLPD when the movie is pulled out and we friends are heartbroken going back home. And the other day which is Saturday, my friend goes to get his money refunded only to know that this movie will be shown from the evening. It so happened that Anand Dighe, who was the Bal Thackerey of Thane and his disciple too, had asked the movie to be screened ensuring no disharmony in Thane.

    Saw the movie at the 9 show in black that night for an unheard of 100 Rs for a 20 Rs ticket with Police and security inside, outside and every corner. The only instance probably of a movie running in Thane but not playing in rest of Mumbai. Saw it again of the refunded ticket which could be exchanged for new show timings at New Excelsior on Tuesday. Saw it twice again in the local theatre making it 4 times.

    Fucking brilliant.

    • It is amazing how much you cared for sound quality even as a kid and traveled long distance just to enjoy the sound. Keep sharing such stuff.

  4. Trivia: Kitty and Nasser playing the characters of other religion. In real life Nasser is Muslim and Kitty is Hindu Brahmin.

  5. Pingback: Kannathil Muthamittal- An Innocent Journey of a Girl | mad about moviez

  6. Pingback: Why Watching Mani Ratnam's Iruvar Is As Good Attending A Film School - Jamuura Blog

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